Stamping Out War

The face of the Afghan War is an unfamiliar one to Americans

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for, I detail America’s lack of an antiwar movement — which is partly due to war being literally out of sight for us.  Who knows, for example, of extensive U.S. bombing in Somalia and the innocents killed in that bombing?  Nick Turse has a powerful article on that here.  Wars are rarely covered critically in the mainstream media, and the Trump administration, even more so than previous administrations, has essentially issued blackout orders on information pertaining to U.S. wars and casualty figures.

One piece of encouraging news comes from Afghanistan, where a truce with the Taliban offers hope of an end to that disastrous war.  Yet, as the New York Times reports, the reconciliation process won’t be easy:

In the second decade of this conflict, begun as an act of vengeance by the United States in 2001 and at its peak involving a force of more than 100,000 American troops, the war has increasingly fallen on the backs of young Afghans.

Over the past five years alone, about 50,000 Afghan police officers and soldiers have died fighting. The number for the Taliban is estimated to be the same if not more. The fighting has been brutal, intimate, the same forces on each side often battling each other in familiar localities over long stretches of time.

It’s relatively straightforward for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.  But what about the Afghan peoples themselves and their struggles with the legacy of this brutal war?

Here’s the beginning of my article:

There is no significant anti-war movement in America because there’s no war to protest. Let me explain. In February 2003, millions of people took to the streets around the world to protest America’s march to war against Iraq. That mass movement failed. The administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had a radical plan for reshaping the Middle East and no protesters, no matter how principled or sensible or determined, were going to stop them in their march of folly. The Iraq War soon joined the Afghan invasion of 2001 as a quagmire and disaster, yet the antiwar movement died down as U.S. leaders worked to isolate Americans from news about the casualties, costs, calamities, and crimes of what was by then called “the war on terror.”

And in that they succeeded. Even though the U.S. now lives in a state of perpetual war, for most Americans it’s a peculiar form of non-war. Most of the time, those overseas conflicts are literally out of sight (and largely out of mind). Meanwhile, whatever administration is in power assures us that our attention isn’t required, nor is our approval asked for, so we carry on with our lives as if no one is being murdered in our name.

War without dire consequences poses a conundrum. In a representative democracy, waging war should require the people’s informed consent as well as their concerted mobilization. But consent is something that America’s leaders no longer want or need and, with an all-volunteer military, there’s no need to mobilize the rest of us.

Back in 2009, I argued that our military was, in fact, becoming a quasi-foreign legion, detached from the people and ready to be dispatched globally on imperial escapades that meant little to ordinary Americans. That remains true today in a country most of whose citizens have been at pains to divorce themselves and their families from military service — and who can blame them, given the atrocious results of those wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and Africa?

Yet that divorce has come at a considerable cost. It’s left our society in a state of low-grade war fever, while accelerating an everyday version of militarism that Americans now accept as normal. A striking illustration of this: President Trump’s recent State of the Union address, which was filled with bellicose boasts about spending trillions of dollars on wars and weaponry, assassinating foreign leaders, and embracing dubious political figures to mount illegal coups (in this case in Venezuela) in the name of oil and other resources. The response: not opposition or even skepticism from the people’s representatives, but rare rapturous applause by members of both political parties, even as yet more troops were being deployed to the Middle East.

Please read the rest of my article here.  Let’s do our best to stamp out war.

13 thoughts on “Stamping Out War

  1. I read this article the day it appeared on TomDispatch. I am currently reading “Imperial Hubris,” by ‘Anonymous,’ an alleged US intel insider. (The book came out in 2004 and I’ve forgotten who the chap proved to be, but I’m sure his identity was “outed.”) The book is quite prophetic. The author’s analysis is that there are only two options in dealing with Afghanistan: 1.) co-opt your opponents, which is very difficult to do [look how long it took for an informant to rat out bin Laden’s hideout inside Pakistan, leading to his assassination, despite a reward of many millions of US dollars offered]; or, 2.) literally vaporize the country!! The latter option would make us Ugly Americans still uglier in the eyes of the world at large. If ‘Anonymous’ was to update his views today, SIXTEEN freaking years later, I’m sure he would say in essence: “Since the US is incapable of successfully employing the first option and unwilling to unleash the second, it should withdraw from Afghanistan forthwith.” Personally, in my wildest dreams I can’t envision Trump and Co.–or any US administration–reaching an actual successful “peace agreement.” Afghanistan will remain the wild and rugged Burial Ground for Empires.


    1. Thanks for reading, Greg. To echo Mike Murry, we win these wars when we end them. They’re simply not ours to “win.” Afghanistan has to find its own path; the same is true of Iraq. We have exported a version of kleptocracy to these countries. I wrote about that at TomDispatch in 2010. Here’s my conclusion back then:

      Is it any surprise then that, in seeking to export our form of government to Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve produced not two model democracies, but two emerging kleptocracies, fueled respectively by oil and opium?

      When we confront corruption in Iraq or Afghanistan, are we not like the police chief in the classic movie Casablanca who is shocked, shocked to find gambling going on at Rick’s Café, even as he accepts his winnings?

      Why then do we bother to feign shock when Iraqi and Afghan elites, a tiny minority, seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority?

      Shouldn’t we be flattered? Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery. Isn’t it?


      1. According to the analysis of ‘Anonymous’–and he was writing the book in 2003/04–the people of Afghanistan long ago chose their path: he says their prime loyalty is to their ethnic group, then comes tribal allegiance, and above all an xenophobic hatred and rejection of infidels. As citizens of an xenophobic society ourselves, it takes a little work to wrap our minds around the notion of the victims of US aggression being the more blatant xenophobes. Bottom line: the Afghans will NEVER accept outsiders dictating to them how they should be governed. Thus every US military person and civilian “security contractor,” etc., who has been killed or maimed in this utterly futile attempt at “nation building” was sacrificed to no good end…except to the extent that it keeps the lovely contracts rolling in for the War Industry establishment.


    1. Sub-headline from today’s online NY Times: “Afghanistan has gone from being the “good war” that the United States must win to the longstanding burden that, like the British, the Soviets and a series of others, it now seeks to unload.” Two quick points: a.) I’ll believe all US troops have been withdrawn when independent verification arrives that this is true; b.) this was NEVER a “good” war [nor a war officially declared by Congress]. It was a ginned-up Neo-Con undertaking, attacking a country (to extent we may even call Afghanistan that!) whose inhabitants had ZERO to do with the attacks on US soil on 9/11/2001. It was an attempt to gain control of strategic real estate vs. Russia and China and its resources (opium poppies!), with a side dish of the insane notion of “implanting” “democracy” and other aspects of the allegedly awesome American Way of Life.


      1. I’m sure you recall the glory years when we were “exporting democracy.” It’s too bad LIFE Magazine is no longer around to give us 3/4 photographs of smiling Green Berets in crisp uniforms teaching Afghani children how to play baseball.
        I’m convinced our many under-reported (if reported on at all) military operations are little more than busy work. After all, with all those people in uniform, if they aren’t actively engaged in something, an argument could be made that we don’t need them. What’s the upside of manning an outpost in, say, Somalia? As my Uncle George would have said, “I don’t see the percentage in it.” What I see is the US having run headlong into another post-colonial boondoggle like that place in southeast Asia, the name of which we aren’t supposed mention when speaking of putting “boots on the round” as the media likes to call contemporary cannon fodder.


        1. Needless to say, what we WON’T hear from any candidate or virtually any politician incumbent in an elected office regardless of party affiliation, are ideas like this: 1.) if you vastly reduce the size of the US Military, you will have fewer hands you’ll feel compelled to provide with “busy-work”; 2.) this would free up–I know, these are very difficult concepts!–many billions of dollars that could be put to work repairing our wretched, “shithole country” infrastructure; and furthermore 3.) thereby provide employment for many millions of youngish people. We obviously would greatly benefit from an updated version of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps to try to slow the pace of the Climate Catastrophe. [This will be my terminology henceforth, unless in my dotage it slips my mind to employ the phrase. The planet has surely moved beyond “mere” Crisis!!] But, like Bernie’s proposed Medicare For All, these ideas are anathema here in The Greatest Nation There Ever Has Been or Ever Could Be.


    2. Call me a cynic, but I remember:

      “Peace is at Hand” — Henry Kissinger shortly before the Presidential election of 1972.

      Of course, after Nixon’s re-election, came the vicious “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi, which essentially levelled the city and its environs. Swore the frustrated Nixon: “I’m going to bomb the bastards like they’ve never been bombed before.” So the American troops continued straggling home for another year and the bombing continued until Congress cut off all funding for The War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) in 1975.

      So now, after eighteen years in Afghanistan, we have “a deal that lays out conditions for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. … The deal will see Washington and its allies withdrawing their troops from five bases in Afghanistan within the next 135 days. The remaining American soldiers will leave the country in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments.”

      14 months. It shouldn’t take 14 weeks. That 14-month time frame should see President Donald Trump safely through his re-election, after which he will have no political incentive for seeing the deal through to completion. And the US government can always blame the Taliban for screwing up the deal at at any time.

      And what will happen to all the heroin and opium production that our troops have protected and nurtured to the fabulous enrichment of boy-buggering Afghan warlords, the puppet regime in Saigon — I mean, Kabul — the CIA, and a consortium of money-laundering international bankers?

      “If.” Always “if.” Always “conditions.” I’ll believe that US and NATO forces — along with their dogs-of-war mercenaries and corporate camp followers — have left Afghanistan after the last one of them has gone. Not before.

      Just leave. The Afghans can figure out the rest for themselves, just like the Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians did. Just tell me when it has already happened. Past tense.


        1. Speaking of experience:

          I recall President Trump loudly promising to withdraw our invading forces (or farces) from Syria, too. Then he discovered that the U.S. military and CIA — not to mention the Apartheid Zionist Entity and Sordid Arabians — had no intention of letting him do that. So he changed his tune and now our vaunted Visigoths remain in Syria “for the oil,” at least officially, and at least for the moment.

          Now President Trump loudly announces the future withdrawal of our invading and occupying thugs from Afghanistan. When the U.S. military and CIA undermine that promise soon after his re-election, what will he give as his reason for staying indefinitely? I know: “the opium.” Big Pharma, Big Bankers, and Big Doctors wouldn’t know how to make lots of money without their favorite prescription (for the Proles).

          As the Russians say: “A pessimist is someone who thinks things can’t get any worse, while an optimist knows that they can.


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